It’s hard not to feel sorry for David Moyes. The Scot’s manic, emotionally-confused celebration after Jermain Defoe had equalised against Arsenal on Saturday told of a man desperate to restore his once excellent reputation. Struggling to decide whether to display delight or sheer fury, Moyes opted for an unsettling combination of the two, as Defoe gave hope to the despondent Wearside faithful. Naturally, Sunderland proceeded to concede three more goals and lose 4-1, leaving Moyes staring at the worst record after 10 games in Premier League history.
Yesterday, Barry Glendenning wrote an interesting piece in The Guardian on how Sunderland’s problems are more deeply rooted than simply the quality of the coaching and playing staff. Glendenning cited the mishandling of the Adam Johnson child-sex case, as well as gross mis investment on the part of the club’s directors, as just a couple of the reasons as to why the club is in such disarray.
While it’s clear that there is a fundamental failing at Sunderland, the appointment of David Moyes was a strange one for a club so in need of a steady hand at the helm. Moyes’ disastrous spell at Manchester United seemed to suck the life out of the former Everton boss, as he struggled to cope with the pressures of what is arguably football’s biggest job. An escape to Spain offered him the chance to restore his dwindling reputation, but after a promising start at Real Sociedad, the wheels soon came off.
When Sunderland announced Moyes as their new manager, it seemed as though this was a last chance saloon for the struggling Scotsman, at a club left reeling from the departure of Sam Allardyce to take the England job. That was a massive blow for the Black Cats, as Allardyce seemed to be slowly imposing his style on the team, and making them much more formidable opposition. For Moyes, it offered a chance to re-build his career at a club where there is undoubted potential.
To say it hasn’t gone according to plan so far would be a gross understatement. Under Allardyce, the Sunderland fans had begun to believe that there was perhaps more to their Premier League existence than the yearly relegation battle that has defined them in recent seasons. However, now more than ever, the fans seem resigned to their relegation fate this season under Moyes.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of Sunderland’s dreadful form is that Moyes doesn’t seem to know how to fix it. He has tried injecting the team with more youth as players such as Duncan Watmore and Lynden Gooch have featured heavily, and while both those players have showed glimpses of their undoubted potential, it’s clear that Sunderland need players of a higher quality to avoid the drop.
The £14m splashed out on Didier N’Dong so far has proved to be a waste, as the midfielder struggled on Saturday against Arsenal’s silky attackers. Sunderland’s recruitment in the summer transfer window was unsatisfactory overall, with the arrivals of Papy Djilobodji and Victor Anichibe failing to inspire the home support. With new signings failing to make an impact, combined with the poor performances of players who looked so assured under Allardyce, Moyes is searching for answers, answers which after 10 games remain elusive for the 53 year-old.
It’s difficult to feel anything but pity for Moyes at the moment. The man looks bereft of ideas and confidence, as the memory of the steely, hardened coach who made his Everton side so tough to beat begins to fade. The fact that he got the Man Utd job on recommendation from Sir Alex Ferguson seemed to heighten the already mammoth pressure on his successor, and Moyes simply couldn’t cope. It is sad how Moyes’ career has come off the rails since then, and even sadder how he can’t seem to fix it.
Perhaps it’s not the end for David Moyes. Maybe he will rediscover the qualities that made him so favoured by Ferguson, and lead Sunderland out of the current mire and to Premier League stability. However, such a recovery seems unattainable in the ruthless business that is the Premier League. As the creases in David Moyes’ forehead multiply day by day, so too do the odds of him ever restoring his once impeccable coaching reputation.